Home > For the lieutenants: Drive the innovation process > Reframing problems into challenges

Reframing problems into challenges

A problem is something we are stuck with. Turning a problem into an innovation challenge is the first step to become unstuck and move forward. The key is to re-frame what blocks us (the problem) into something actionable. It may be at first just a bit actionable, but if we get in the dynamics of creating one actionable step after the other and build on them we will gain momentum.

The first step is to identify some major root causes. A problem can have technical root causes and soft root causes (as in technical skills v. soft skills). For instance, if the problem is that sales are disappointing, this might be because competitors have better cheaper products (technical root cause) or because we’re not convincing enough with customers.

The second step consist in turning each root cause into a what-challenge or a how-challenge. For a technical root cause we may ask questions starting with: “what would it take to [eg develop a higher performance product]?”, “how might we overcome [eg the barrier to entry at customer X]?”, “what else could we try?”, etc. Just go for quantity and prioritise the most promising insights later.

Soft root cause are usually trickier to address; rather than quantity, they require sensitivity. One technique to surface and re-frame them is adapted from Nancy Kline’s Time to Think line of questioning:

  • a) We dig deeper into the root causes of the root cause: What makes you think that [eg you are not convincing]? And what makes you think that? And what makes you think that?
  • b) When we reach what we consider to be the fundamental limiting assumption, we then turn it on its head: What would be the positive opposite of [the limiting assumption]?
  • c) The reframing then goes: “If you knew that you are [the positive opposite] what would you do? How would you go about it?

Even if we discover new root causes as we go along, we now have momentum and we can reframe each of these root causes to discover new possibilities. By then, we know that innovation is on its way.

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